The whole inspiration behind my Iowa road trip was to visit Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homes in the area! We visited Burr Oak in Iowa, Walnut Grove in Minnesota, and DeSmet in South Dakota. Since the Ingalls family moved around pretty often, some of the sites were more significant than others, so if you’re looking for Laura Ingalls Wilder homes to visit, these are my recommendations!
After we visited Decorah, Iowa, we stopped by Burr Oak to visit the Masters Hotel. The Ingalls family lived here 1876-1877, so they weren’t in Burr Oak for very long. The family worked in the hotel after leaving Walnut Grove after the grasshopper plagues, and Grace was born while they were in Burr Oak.
Since the Ingalls family didn’t live in Burr Oak for very long, there aren’t many artifacts in the museum relating to Laura’s life. So most of the items in the hotel are just historical pieces from the time that Laura had lived there. But even though there weren’t many things to see that related to the Ingalls family, the tour guide was very knowledgeable about their time in the hotel and explained the significance of each of the rooms.
But what the hotel lacks in historic artifacts, it does have one historical advantage- it’s the only childhood home of Laura that is on its original site. The rest haven’t survived or have been moved.
The Ingalls family actually lived in Walnut Grove, Minnesota twice, before and after living in Burr Oak.
The first place the Ingalls family lived in Walnut Grove was in a dugout on Plum Creek, which hasn’t survived the years. There’s a plaque and a roped off area marking where the dugout was, and the family also had a house on the land later that also hasn’t survived. So there isn’t much to actually see at Plum Creek, but you can explore some of the creek and the prairie around it and feel like you’re in her books!
Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum
Also in Walnut Grove is the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum that you can visit. This honestly wasn’t our favorite Laura museum on our trip. The museum itself was pretty small, and a lot of it was actually about the TV show and not the actual life of the Ingalls family. There are some different buildings outside that you can check out, too, but they are replicas or just historic buildings that aren’t related to Laura’s life.
So you can still learn some things at the museum (especially if you’re a fan of the show), but I preferred visiting Plum Creek!
Our last stop was in De Smet, South Dakota, which was my favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder home to visit! The Ingalls family lived in De Smet for several years, starting in 1879, so there are a few different locations around the town that are significant to Laura’s life.
The Surveyor House
You start the museum tour at the Surveyor House, which is where the Ingalls family stayed in the winter of 1879-1880 when they first moved to De Smet. The house itself is pretty small, but you can also visit the school that Laura and Carrie attended.
When they were restoring the old school, they found an old blackboard that still had writings and drawings on it from the 1800s!
The second part of the tour continues at the Ingalls Home that Pa built in 1887. Laura’s parents and sister Mary lived here for many years, so this house has lots of historic artifacts from the family!
De Smet Cemetery
Laura and her family are buried in the cemetery in De Smet, so you can stop by and pay your respects. It isn’t far off the driveway and there are markers, so their graves aren’t hard to find.
The Ingalls Homestead is the land that the Ingalls family lived on before Pa built their house in town. The buildings on the land aren’t related to the Ingalls family, so the homestead is more to see the land that they lived on and experience what it was like to live there.
There is a historic farm, church, and school that you can visit, and you can even ride horses and go for a covered wagon ride! If you have kids, the homestead has lots of activities that they would enjoy.
So out of all the homes and museums we visited, the Laura Ingalls Wilder homes in De Smet were my favorite! There was a lot to see and do there, and it was fun to be able to experience different aspects of the Ingalls’ lives. There are other homes I need to visit, so comment if you have any recommendations.